January 2007

2007 01 31
Iran may be behind all evil in world

This piece in the NYT today is pretty irresponsible: Iran May Have Trained Attackers That Killed 5 American Soldiers, U.S. and Iraqis Say. Yes, indeed. It may have done so. But good golly the evidence for that right now is thin. The authors of the piece – two of them beavering away at the story! – are unable to come up with very much to support the theory. The idea seems to be that the attack was pretty sophisticated, and Iran is sophisticated. Just put two and two together! I think this is my favourite part:

The officials said the sophistication of the attack astonished investigators, who doubt that Iraqis could have carried it out on their own — one reason a connection to Iran is being closely examined. Officials cautioned that no firm conclusions had been drawn and did not reveal any direct evidence of a connection.

The last sentence gives everyone involved – from the officials to the reporters to the bloggers who pick it up and move the story along without the qualifications – a cover if it turns out to be nothing.

This isn’t just idle speculation. The Bush administration very much wants to broaden the confrontation with Iran. I’ve put my money on covert operations against Iran, but no actual bombing of the country. But the plan is to be much more aggressive in the future, and an important contribution to that effort is to convince the public that Iran is the source of all evil in the world. In that context, it’s not right for the NYT to amplify and transmit the administration’s messages about Iran’s evil, evil doings without having solid, independent reasons for thinking that they’re true. And putting in a weasel sentence admitting that the piece is a baseless speculation doesn’t really get them off the hook for doing it.

Howls of outrage (15)

2007 01 30
Arar, again

This piece by Dahlia Lithwick makes it sound as if the Bush administration has taken the stand it has on the Arar case because it doesn’t like admitting mistakes. But my understanding is that whatever official made the decision to have Arar sent to Syria broke U.S. law in doing so. If the United States applied its own laws to its own government officials, then someone – probably someone high up – would be in serious trouble. There’s not much chance of that happening, of course, but that’s a much better reason to try to avoid discussing the case than simply wanting the better of an argument. If I’m wrong about that, please do let me know in the comments.

By the way, in the video linked to in the last post, Gonzales has this little smirk on his face, as if to say, “Oh you better be careful not to walk too far out on the plank on this one. I know something you don’t. Arar is a nasty fellow.” Now it’s doubtful that Gonzales will tell Leahy more than the Canadian government already knows, and the Canadian government is convinced of Arar’s innocence. But suppose for a moment that Arar is one violent little jihadist, masquerading as a mild-mannered computer programmer. My understanding, again, is that sending him to Syria knowing full well that he would be tortured was against U.S. law. In other words, Gonzales should really just go fuck himself.

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2007 01 30
Leahy and Gonzales on Arar

About halfway through this video Leahy gets really pissed off.

You know, I really appreciate what Leahy says here. It speaks well of him, and anyone who voted for him, and anyone who supports him.

Howls of outrage (3)

2007 01 28

Posted by in: Food

It’s true. This baklava is just mind-blowingly good. I meant to post about it a while back, but never got around to it.

Howls of outrage (3)

2007 01 28
By the powers invested in me as a blogger, I hearby promote this story

Posted by in: Political issues

And I would have gotten away with it if not for you meddling kids and your Internets.

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2007 01 27
Water water everywhere

From Spencer – who just turned 30 – comes this link. It’s a description of the real-life game facing engineers as global sea levels rise, an essay with pictures, The Army Corps of Engineers Game.

Howls of outrage (5)

2007 01 26
Arar apology and settlement

Stephen says sorry:

Prime Minister Stephen Harper offered a formal apology and a compensation package to Maher Arar and his family on Friday for the “terrible ordeal” they suffered after Arar spent nearly a year in a Syrian jail.

“On behalf of the government of Canada, I wish to apologize to you…and your family for any role Canadian officials may have played in the terrible ordeal that all of you experienced in 2002 and 2003,” Harper said.

“I sincerely hope that these words and actions will assist you and your family in your efforts to begin a new and hopeful chapter in your lives,” he said.

Harper, who made the announcement in the foyer of the House of Commons in Ottawa, said the settlement negotiated with Arar includes $10.5 million for pain and suffering along with an estimated $2 million for legal fees.

Most well-informed Americans know about the Arar case, but I doubt that very many people among even this small cross-section of American public opinion know what a huge deal the Arar case is up in Canada. It’s just all over the news, all the time. There was a scandal, a major inquiry, a series of closely followed (fruitless) negotiations and briefings with U.S. counterparts, and now this. So it’s constantly in the news, and opinion is pretty solidly unanimous that it is a bad thing that the U.S. government abducted a Canadian citizen and deliberately sent him off to be tortured in Syria.

The U.S. continues to insist that Arar is guilty of some unspecified crimes, but also claims that it can’t publicly reveal its reasons for thinking this. Given that the main reason seems to be a desire to avoid admitting that they cheerfully enabled the torture of an innocent Canadian citizen, given that they are sociopaths who lie and lie repeatedly about these and related matters, given that being an accessory to torture in this way is technically a crime according to U.S. law, as well as international law . . . well, given all these things, no one believes the U.S. government’s claims about Arar. And indeed, when U.S. officials briefed the Canadian government privately on its Arar file, the Canadian side came away distinctly underwhelmed by the quality of the evidence. And just to give you an idea of where the Canadian government is coming from on this, we’re talking about a Conservative government, that is, a bunch of people who would just love to get cosy with the U.S. on all kinds of issues, and would surely back down on this issue if it were at all possible. (To give you an idea of the ethos of the government, the Prime Minister praised Israel’s “moderation” during the recent Israel-Lebanon fighting.)

My dear American friends, this matters. This really matters to us. Canada is, as you so often remind me, an insignificant country. But we do what we can to help – for example, in Southern Afghanistan now, where Canadian soldiers are fighting and dying in an offensive against the Taliban – and occasionally we can offer resources, diplomatic support, credibility, and so on. When you fuck with us in this way, it makes it harder to cooperate with you in other constructive ways that figure into the larger effort to protect ourselves. And in the end, even setting aside moral objections to torture, that ought to matter to you.

A single voice crying in the wilderness (1)

2007 01 23
Emacs question

Posted by in: Emacs, Software, tech-sci

(Non-geeks stop reading now.)

How do you customize emacs (running in MS Windows) so that it starts off maximized? I assume that you want to specify the frame size of the initial buffer in your _emacs file. But Googling only reveals customizing the initial buffer size by specifying dimensions, like so:

(setq initial-frame-alist ‘((top . 1) (left . 1) (width . 70) (height . 28)))

But that sucks. It’s not the same as maximizing the damn program, even if fiddling with the numbers could get the same effect as maximizing, which it doesn’t. (And the commands which do maximize the frame size end up pushing the minibuffer off the screen.) I’m trying to do this with my _emacs file without going into my registry.

Or is this so confused that the question doesn’t even make sense?

Update: Answer here.

Howls of outrage (15)

2007 01 22
No, fuck you

Posted by in: Microsoft, tech-sci

This piece on Windows Vista is one of the most underwhelming positive reviews I’ve ever read. I’m supposed to pay a hundred dollars for this piece of shit? I think I’ll pass.

Howls of outrage (5)

2007 01 20
Ron Mueck

Posted by in: Art, Sculpture

The other day, Yoon and I went to see the Ron Mueck exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum. Very impressive. At first, it’s difficult to notice anything about Mueck’s sculptures beyond their sheer technical brilliance. But once you start to get used to that, you can move on to appreciate their sensitivity and their perceptiveness. A wonderful show, and it’s over Feb. 4th, 2007.

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2007 01 19
Now this post has a title

Posted by in: Stem cell research

Shorter NYT Op-Ed defending Bush’s stem cell research policy:

1. The stem cell question is whether embryos are “human subjects.”
2. No, actually, it’s about whether embryos are persons, with “a right to life”.
3. While many advocates of embryo-destroying research insist that embryos are not persons, since they are soooo different from the rest of us, “surely America has learned the hard way not to assign human worth by appearances.”
4. So maybe embryos are persons, with moral worth equal to that of grown-ups, and therefore possess a right to life.
5. But then again, it’s downright hard to make the case that even grown-ups are equal in the substantive sense that could ground a strong right to life. Look at all those pussies and old farts and tell me it’s obvious they are equal to you and me.
6. Indeed, it is not only these observations about nature that lead us to question some people’s moral worth; we are also lead to question it “by our own humanitarian impulses”, i.e. the impulses that lead us to destroy embryos.
7. Whoa Nelly! This is some heavy shit. What if our good, humanitarian intentions turn us into Nazis?
8. Therefore, better follow Bush’s lead and avoid embryonic stem cell research.

As simple as this article is, it starts off a lot better than many discussions of this and related (e.g. abortion) topics. But step 5 is a farce. While the author is right that the question of moral worth is made difficult by the existence of severe natural differences, nothing is made of the fact that our intuitions run strongly against permitting the sorts of acts that would be made permissible by a moral theory that counted the weak and the old as somehow less morally worthy of a “right to life.” Maybe, just maybe, if we are ready to reject the implications, we are/should be ready to reject the supposition that leads to them.

But the biggest gap in all of this lies with 6 and the move to 7. If it is indeed our “humanitarian” impulses that lead us to endorse embryonic stem cell research, isn’t this some evidence to think that embryos and grown-ups have different moral worth/moral entitlements after all? Answer: Yes, yes it is.

Howls of outrage (5)

2007 01 18
Prediction: The fate of Iraq’s new oil law

I should make more predictions: they’re good at forcing me to think through an issue, and they’re nice and testable, which gives me a chance to look back later on and weep or cheer, as the case may be. On the soon-to-come second incarnation of this blog, I will have a wildly expanded list of categories, including one for predictions, which will make it that much easier for my friends and foes to weep or cheer, as the case may be.

Anyway, let me make a prediction about Iraq’s newly drafted oil law. The proposed law might make it through Iraq’s political process to become the law of the land, but it hardly matters: Renationalizing the Iraqi oil industry will become a test of will and credibility for Iraqi politicians for as long as it takes to renationalize the oil industry. If I was an oil exec, I would be very reluctant to bet on this law. It doesn’t have a chance.

A single voice crying in the wilderness (1)

2007 01 18
In an infinite internet, every possible blog would be an actual blog

Posted by in: Odds and ends

Getting closer: A blog devoted entirely to improper uses of the lower case “L”.:

Ever notice hand-written signs with letters in all-caps, except for the letter L? It looks like an uppercase i … WHY DO PEOPlE WRITE lIKE THIS?


A single voice crying in the wilderness (1)

2007 01 17
Translation resource

Posted by in: Language

This translation resource is fairly narrowly focused, but I suppose it might come in handy in certain situations. You never know.


Howls of outrage (2)

2007 01 17
Ze Frank

Posted by in: Odds and ends

I mentioned Ze Frank in a course of a conversation with an internet-savvy person yesterday. “Who is that?” she asked. Which reminds me that not everyone – not even everyone who is internet-savvy – watches “The Show.” This is sad.

As it happens, yesterday’s show was especially good, though not quite as good as my all-time favourite.

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